by Anne ThomasThe ongoing row over attempts to turn Christmas into a "winter festival" has taken a new turn with the start of a new debate over whether Christmas cards should be secular or traditional with a religious message.
A fierce debate was ignited as The Daily Telegraph's Jeff Randall wrote in a column that he was discarding all cards that did not mention the word "Christmas" in it. The article provoked more than 200 responses from around the world, the majority in favour of keeping festive greetings traditional.
Gordon Brown has condemned attempts to change traditional festivities and the Archbishop of York said "illiberal atheists" and secularists were trying to undermine Christian beliefs. John Reid, the Home Secretary, joined the debate by saying he was "sick and tired" of the sort of political correctness which has meant Christmas cannot be called "Christmas". Mr. Reid branded efforts to ban traditions such as hanging decorations as "mad" and riled against British Airways' decision - now reversed - to suspend a Heathrow check-in worker for wearing a cross. "Like the vast majority of people, I'm sick and tired of this sort of mad political correctness that said you can't wear a crucifix on British Airways, or you can't put up decorations for Christmas, or you can't call Christmas 'Christmas'," he told GMTV's The Sunday Programme.
An increasing number of schools are ignoring nativity plays and many firms would rather send cards wishing "happy holidays" then "Merry Christmas". Jeff Randall's column has touched a nerve with readers of all faiths, including the Bishop of Bolton. The Rt Rev David Gillett, chairman of the Christian Muslim Forum, said cards should say "Happy Christmas" or "Greetings at Christmas". "That's what it is," he said. "People of whatever religions or faiths are not wanting Christmas to be secularised." Christians are unlikely to cause offence if they send their Muslim, Hindu or Jewish neighbours a card bearing the "C" word, he said.
A recent survey of 2,300 employers by a law firm, Peninsula, found that 74 per cent of managers were not allowing any festive decorations in their workplaces, up from 71 per cent last year. As well as risking offence, bosses felt that Christmas trees and tinsel made offices unprofessional.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, attacked what he called the "politically correct posturing" of public bodies which avoided the term "Christmas". "I would hope that councils, parliaments and other public bodies will no longer feel they have to contort their language to avoid mention of the word 'Christmas'," he said. "I am certain that there never was a real risk of alienating or marginalising those of other faiths, as was often claimed."
Jack Straw, the Commons Leader, wrote in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph: "I've never met a Christian who isn't delighted to recognise Yom Kippur, nor Eid, nor Diwali. Nor have I met a Muslim who denies my right to celebrate the birth of Christ."